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Arviat man hailed as hero

An Arviat man is being hailed as a hero after he died protecting his children from a polar bear attack.

“I think the only thing to say right now is he's a hero,” said Andrea Ishalook.

Community members wait for Aaron Gibbons' body to be returned to Arviat after he died protecting his children from a polar bear attack on July 3. photo courtesy of Gordy Kidlapik

Ishalook, who is a distant relative of the deceased, said he was a family man with a big heart.

“He is a very kind person who always cares for his children,” she said.

Aaron Gibbons, 31, was out harvesting eggs with his children on Sentry Island, which is about 10 km away from the community on July 3 when the bear attacked.

Though he was unarmed, Gibbons put himself between the animal and his children and told them to run to the boat to radio for help.

Gibbons was found dead at the scene and a group of nearby hunters later shot and killed the animal, according to the RCMP.

It was the second fatal attack in the Kivalliq in as many years. The other incident occurred in 2000 when a man was attacked near Rankin Inlet.

Last month, a polar bear had to be shot in Rankin Inlet after it came too close to the community.

Following the tragedy Gordy Kidlapik‏, Gibbons' relative who listened as his daughters called for help on the radio, took to Twitter to argue that polar bear tours, especially around Churchill, have been encouraging the animals to be more comfortable around humans.

Kidlapik says this has impacted the animals' behaviour around the Kivalliq, as the bears migrate up and down the coast of Hudson Bay.

Ishalook, who is the manager of Arviat's hunters and trappers association, said people in the Kivalliq should be given more polar bear tags.

“We're trying to increase the quota but it's hard for us as Inuit,” he said.

In January the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board approved increasing the total allowable harvest of Western Hudson Bay polar bears from 28 to 34 animals for the remainder of the 2017-18 hunting season. The policy is expected to be reviewed by the Government of Nunavut this summer.

A 2016 report by the NWMB, found that there were about 842 polar bears living in the Western Hudson Bay region between Chesterfield Inlet and Churchill, MB. That number is slightly down from the 2011 aerial survey, which counted 949 bears.